New To You Comics: Space Crusaders In ‘Black Panther- Intergalactic Empire Of Wakanda Book 1’

by Tony Thornley

With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we talk about a very familiar hero thrust into a new world, literally.

Black Panther is notable for being the first major Black superhero. The character is one of the most fascinating in American comics- a king, scientist, warrior, and superhero. However, in 2018, T’Challa received a new role- revolutionary.

In Black Panther: The Intergalactic Empire Of Wakanda Book 1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Daniel Acuna, Jen Bartel, Triona Farrell, and Joe Sabino, a Nameless slave rebels against his masters of the Empire of Wakanda. As he joins a group of revolutionaries, the newly rechristened T’Challa fights to not just free those oppressed by Emperor N’Jadaka but to reclaim his identity stolen from him. In doing so, the slave will become a hero, and the hero will become a legend.

Tony Thornley: So we chatted a little bit about a couple different options for Black History Month, and I definitely think this pick is one of the best choices we could have made. This story might be a bit of a headscratcher for someone who walked into Black Panther after the movie. It’s an Afrofuturism space opera, which I don’t think anyone’s ever seen in comics. However, it’s rooted heavily in the mythology of Wakanda, so there’s a lot of familiar elements and names.

Brendan Allen: It wasn’t too hard to find my way around. Those first couple narration blurbs on the first page set the scene pretty well. I haven’t read much Black Panther, but with the limited reading I do have, and a little bit of context from the MCU, it’s still pretty accessible. 

I like that they set it on other planets, with a different, but kind of same, cast. Allows for that familiarity, without having to stick so hard to canon, but doesn’t quite go down the route of alternate universes or alternate timelines.

TT: Yeah, I mean it hints that there might be time travel or an alternate reality involved, but it doesn’t get into it much here. That’s for later volumes.

I struggled with Coates’ earlier Black Panther work. I felt that it was really hard to get into. I didn’t feel that as much in this story. This volume is the first of four, so there’s a lot of world building in it. It’s not a satisfying story on its own, but each individual issue has a strong throughline, with a beginning, middle, and end. He uses the archetypes of Black Panther characters to introduce readers to these new characters by using familiar names. It’s a smart story and I really enjoyed it.

BA: I accidentally read the sixth chapter first, and then went back to #1 when I realized. It actually reads pretty fluidly in that order (6-1-2-3-4-5), because chapter six is sort of encapsulated as its own little complete piece of the whole. The big pop in chapter six is what would keep me going in the series beyond this, though.

TT: Oh yeah, that issue (focusing on Emperor N’Jadaka with GREAT guest art by Bartel and Farrell) was the strongest of this first volume, for sure. It felt mythic, in a way that was half actual mythology, half Star Wars-esque sci-fantasy.

BA: Kind of a Wakandan Star Wars, isn’t it? The chosen one, with preternatural abilities, being groomed to take on the evil space emperor who relies on a magic suit to help him squash any resistance and keep his throne? Also, badass ships and laser guns.

TT: Oh definitely. It would feel right at home in the Star Wars universe, but Coates does so much to root it in the Marvel Universe. T’Challa has flashbacks of Storm. N’Jadaka wears a Klyntar (aka Venom) symbiote. There’s mentions of the Shi’Ar. The Rigellians show up quite a bit. The big MacGuffin is a shard of the M’Kraan.

It’s very satisfying as a stand-alone but for a long-time Marvel fan, this is a feast.

BA: And as a casual Marvel reader, I found plenty to grab onto. You were right to suggest this would be a good jumping on point for readers who want to get a taste.

TT: Definitely. I think I would actually recommend this over Coates’ preceding volumes. Go back and read those after you read these six issues, IMO, but here’s where Coates really took off. 

I kind of think Daniel Acuna is an acquired taste. I did not like his work at first when I was introduced to him years ago, but I’ve really come to love it. His painted art always creates a specific mood and atmosphere, which he’s able to vary by what he’s working on. In this volume, he evokes classic space operas while creating his own world. The design work is a big reason that I think that this story is worth reading. The uniforms of the Maroons, the aliens, the ships and tech? I think they’re all stunning.

BA: Agreed. The massive battles are impressive. I love that Acuna gave one side red lasers and the other side blue. Back to the Star Wars reference, it’s a really easy way to separate the faces and heels in the mess of bodies and flying ships. 

TT: I love that shorthand in space opera! It would have been fun if he did something beyond the norm (green and purple maybe?) but it’s a great nod to the story’s influences.

More than anything this story arc makes me both want to read more Black Panther AND seek out some Afrofuturism stories.

BA: Truth. I liked it way more than I expected. It was really smart to take the story off-planet for this arc. No need for the rub from the rest of the MCU. Let the story stand by and for itself. And, as is beginning to be a theme with these volume ones, we should hit up the next arc in a future NTYC.

TT: We absolutely should! So what’s up next?

BA: We’re headed back into the Xenoverse with James Stokoe’s Aliens: Dead Orbit.

Black Panther: The Intergalactic Empire Of Wakanda is available now from Marvel Comics. The digital edition is currently on sale on Comixology during Black History Month.

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